Aug 052015

Tasting with John Rivenburgh and Bob Young, Bending Branch Winery

Bending Branch Winery: Where Bob and John Bring a “Dash of Flash” to the Wine Tasting: New Wine Releases

After driving past the cool waters of the Guadalupe River and arriving at Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Bending Branch owner and winemaker Bob Young chauffeured us to the winery building. He used his new and nearly “street legal” electric shuttle car. In the cool of Bending Branch Winery, three flights of wines were set up for us to taste.

Quite surprising to me was, while Bending Branch Winery made their reputation on dark red Tannat wines, we were four wines into the tasting and all of the limited release 2014 wines tasted in the first flight were whites: Estate Cuvee Blanc white blend; Roussanne, Hoover Valley Vineyard; Viognier, Riven Rock Vineyard; and, Single Barrel Blanc, Hall Ranch Vineyards.

Bending Branch viticulturist and winemaker John Rivenburgh explained, “While out with some of my hill country winemaking buddies, they joked with me…‘John, you’re getting really good making red wines. Too bad you can’t make white wines.’ I wanted to show them, I really could do whites, too.”


John Rivenburgh peeking between the bottles.

While I’m sure this was said in jest, their estate vineyard combined with a good 2014 vintage and new sources of hill country grapes complied so that John and Bob could have some really fine whites to show:

  • 2014 Cuvee Blanc is all stainless steel fermented from their estate grown, organic grapes: approximately 60% Picpoul Blanc, 20% Roussanne and 20% Vermentino. It’s a palate pleaser yielding Picpoul’s crisp acidity and lemon-orange citrus notes carried with Roussanne’s classic smooth silky mouthfeel.
  • 2014 Roussanne, Hoover Valley Vineyard is 100% varietal. This Chardonnay lover’s Texas white wine is made with a 50-50 blend of stainless and oak aged Roussanne with a touch of lees left in during aging in oak. My notes say, “great body, richness and depth of flavor, but bringing a crisp finish where lemon citrus and tea notes prevail.” It is the first Texas version of Bending Branch’s “Comfortage” (a twist on the Rhone Valley appellation name – Hermitage) that in prior years was made from California fruit.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:29 pm
Jul 072015

Jennifer Beckmann at Kuhlman Cellars

Kuhlman Cellars: For Love of Vina Vita and the Re-creation of a First Kiss

On a busy Fall afternoon, while rushing back to my cottage on the hill at the end of a long drive, I was encouraged by Jennifer Beckmann to stop by the newly opened Kuhlman Cellars. After stopping-in to a take a peek, I’ll admit to being far too distracted by many things that day. But, the winery did leave impressions of unpretentious yet fine food/wine pairings and the aromatics of new pine paneling. It also gave me the urge to return, which is something that I was just recently able to do.

Driving up to the winery on Route 290, I saw the future hopes of owners Chris and Jennifer Cobb in Kuhlman Cellars’ newly planted estate vineyard populated with mostly Mediterranean-style grapes. Present were Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan and Mourvèdre. These are all sun-loving varieties, that have been known for centuries to express their terroir (their vineyard environment including the soil, topography, and climate).


Kuhlman Cellars and Estate Vineyard

In the winery, greeted again by the ever-smiling Jennifer Beckmann, I was invited to savor the Kuhlman concept of Vina Vita (or Wine Life). This time it came at a slower pace allowing me to enjoy bites of food and matching sips of wine (five bites and five wines, perfectly paired) in a guided tasting. It was a personal wine and food journey of sorts with Jennifer as my guide. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 7:21 pm
Jul 012015


Winemaking Harvest Internship Opportunity: Looking for Texans Interested in California Experience

Forwarded from Randy Hester,

I am coming up on my 10th harvest in Napa Valley but my first position was a cellar internship in 2006, and the knowledge I gained from it is immeasurable. Because the Texas wine industry is growing so quickly, I would like to share a great opportunity with my fellow Texans again this year. I have set up a referral system with the same winery I worked with to start my career and am happy to assist in setting up an interview for a position this fall.

The Texas Wine Drinkers forum is packed with parents, friends, students, winery people, vineyard people, and consumers who love Texas wines. If you know of anyone interested in working this fall in Napa Valley, please message me on Facebook or by email and I can provide you more detail and information.

And this was the recent call to action that I’ve initiated:

Fellow Texas wine drinkers, please encourage your favorite wineries to send applicants my way. The sacrifice they make this year to get one or two of their employees some excellent training will pay tremendous dividends immediately upon their return and for years to come. Jeff Cope, Russell Kane, Denise Clarke, Katy Jane Seaton, January Wiese, anything you can do to spread the word would be greatly appreciated. This industry is growing at a fantastic rate, and with all of the newly planted vineyards coming on line in the next few year we need skilled workers!

I have had a few responses, and here is the gist of what I have sent those folks:

Thank you for reaching out. I started my winemaking career with this fantastic winery and they have agreed to interview people that I send their way. This is a paid internship in Napa, lasting approximately from August through November. Applicants would need a driver’s license, your own transportation, and temporary housing. (Harvest housing is readily available across the valley through rental agencies. Options include spare bedrooms, guest houses, etc., and even the winery has rooms to rent on a first come first served basis.) They will learn a broad range of cellar operations at a high level, and at a volume that provides plenty of repetition and practice. My hope is that anyone who goes through this experience will be able to jump right in to any production facility in Texas and be a highly productive member of that team. In your case maybe that means taking yourself and your team to a whole different level.

If you or anyone you know is interested please send me an updated resume and a quick note on your goals in the wine industry. From there I would like to connect with a phone call to talk more about the ins and outs.

Thank you so much for your time and your interest. Please spread the word this summer and let’s get some Texas winery folks some good training. I look forward to meeting you at some point or another down the road.

Randy Hester


 Posted by at 10:49 am
Jun 302015

Messina Hof Sneak Peek – Awards, Events & Wines

Sneak Peek of Messina Hof Winery 2015 at Vic & Anthony’s

Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo, the seventh generation winemaker in the Bonarrigo family, addressed the assemblage at Vic & Anthony’s Steak House in Houston to taste and savor the wines from Messina Hof Winery and Resort. With Paul Mitchell were his family: father and mother, Paul and Merrill, who started their family winery in Bryan, TX, in the 1970s, and his wife Karen.

During a break in the tasting, Paul Mitchell highlighted a few of Messina Hof’s long list of accomplishments, including:

  • Most awarded winery in Texas with over 200 competition medals in just the past three years and over 150 gold medal wining wines.
  • From 1983 to 2015, the annual case production of Messina Hof Winery increased from 550 to over 70,000 cases.
  • Being the fourth modern era winery established in Texas, Messina Hof now has three locations including the Messina Hof Winery and Resort (Bryan), Messina Hof Hill Country (Fredericksburg) and Messina Hof Grapevine.

Selection of Messina Hof Award Winning Wines

He said, “During the last few years, there has been a lot of investments in Texas vineyards that have accumulated more than 2000 new acres of vines. Many growers on the high plains are converting from cotton to grapes. I want to specifically acknowledge Bill and Gail Day (Houston area residents) who planted their Buena Suerte Vineyards near Lubbock. Their vineyard has provided the Viognier, Tempranillo and Sangiovese that are in the wines you enjoying tonight.” Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Jun 242015

The Texas Wine Gulag: VT Guest Blog by R.L. Winters, Fairhaven Vineyards

The Texas Wine Gulag

How Big Retail Is Wrecking The Texas Wine Business

VT Guest Blog by: R.L. Winters (Master Horticulturist/Ampelographer Fairhaven American Hybrid Research Foundation), Owner & Winemaker Fairhaven Vineyards

— — — — —

How many times have you gone into a liquor retailer looking for a specific wine and been told: “Oh, the reason you can’t find it is because the Texas wines are ‘Over There’. Have you noticed, that frequently, ‘Over There’ really means ‘Back There’.

I have begun to question the reasoning behind store schematics that take a specific regional wine and (effectively) locks it up, prisoner, to a separate, and frequently, remote section of the retail area. In Texas, this is effectively ‘The Texas Wine. Gulag’.

Does this ‘Texas Wine Section’ really stimulate sales, or does it guarantee that the majority of wine shoppers won’t see your product?

One recent experience I’ve had with one of the large Texas retailers points up the problems that Texas wineries face in the crowded wine market.

I’ve had not less than a dozen phone conversations with the wine buyer and, amidst all of the label grumbling (click here for more on label grumbling), I was presented with a long list of excuses why the buyer simply doesn’t have the time to sample my products.


Notice: Texas wine on left; bourbon & rye whiskey on right.

Assuming I (or you if presented with the same situation) have the patience and perseverance at a level granted to few mortals, I might end up with five minutes with the retailer to offer up my wines! Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:48 am
Jun 172015


TX Locations Wine: A worthy wine as big as the state it represents

Dave Phinney’s idea is simple, complicated and a great deal of fun, all rolled into one. As you can see below harvested from the Locations Wine website:

The Simple: Make the best possible wine from a given country or location.

The Complex: Going out and tracking down the vineyards, which are capable of delivering the quality of wine needed.

The Fun: Traveling the world to visit incredible sites and meet amazing people that challenge each other to make the best wine possible.

Up until last week, there were five Locations wines each designated by the country’s call letter(s), France (F), Italy (I), Spain (E – for España), California (Ca) and Argentina (Ar). Another Locations wine from Corsica is designated by simply the words CORSE. Well, mid-last week that changed and changed for the better of Texas.


That day, I was doing some “recreational” shopping at Central Market on Westheimer in Houston. It was about 10 am when I walked in to the wine section and found a stack of boxes emblazoned in large black letters on a white & black background that simply read: TX.

I stopped by the desk to asked a few questions and got these somewhat surprising replies:

  1. Is this Texas wine? Answer: I think so.
  2. Who made it? Answer: I don’t know.
  3. What grapes are in it? Answer: Beats me.
  4. How much does it cost? Answer: I don’t know that either.

OK, well how in the God’s great world are you going to sell me a bottle?

Then, I got the justification in the following response:

“We just opened the boxes and haven’t even got the prices or info yet.”

So, we did what any normal person would do in a market wine section these days… We Googled.

But, you know what we found? Absolutely nothing.

The website at didn’t even have TX listed. Luckily, the bottle already had a SKU number in the Central Market system and we were able to find the price. It was somewhere just south of $25, I believe. So I bought it.

After inspecting the bottle, the maker was obvious and very familiar. Right next to Dave Phinney’s name was that of Kim McPherson (of McPherson Cellars fame), the fabulous winemaker of Lubbock, TX.

After getting home and in my house for all of two minutes with groceries still on the counter, I popped the cork and poured a glass. In seconds thereafter I answered, at least generically question number three (above): What grape were in this wine? Mediterranean and likely Rhone varieties were screaming out of the glass.

Luckily, Jessica Dupuy did a great job in getting the scoop on this wine and the Phinney/McPherson collaboration in her Texas Monthly online review (Texas Monthly). And the grapes? She reported:

“Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache (all Mediterranean grapes of the Rhone valley) making up about 88 percent of the wine of Texas appellation. To complete the collaboration, the remaining 12 percent is from Phinney’s California stock with Bordeaux reds and Petite Sirah to add rich color and a little more alcohol.”

So based on her report, I could also tell that the wine is legally (per federal TTB regulations) allowed to be considered Texas appellation (at least 75% Texas wine is the requirement). Also, the reverse-side label (see above) calls it “Texas Red Wine” as a verification of this.


Another interesting aspect of the wine, is that it is “vintage-less” with no vintage date indicated on the label. My take from that is in order to get enough wine with Texas appellation to fulfill its mandate for national distribution, McPherson had to look everywhere…even in tanks and barrels with wines from possibly newer and older vintages. [VT – this is pure speculation on my part] If so, all I can say about this is “It’s about time”.

Hooray for the multi-vintage, multi-varietal business model for Texas. It is a tried and true way to produce consistent quality wines in regions that are challenged (usually by the weather like Texas) putting together back-to-back vintage years. Champagne has claim to its fame based on this business model (blending of grapes and vintages that varies every year) and it works. Why not Texas? For a place like Texas where people joke “Texas doesn’t have weather. It just has extremes!”, this sound like a great approach that could just make Texas an internationally recognized wine region.

Now, what you’ve probably been waiting for…the wine.

TX is deep purple-red, medium-plus body and is a heady wine. It’s 15.5% alcohol pulls a lot of fruit up into the vapors held in the glass. My recommendation is to start with a very large wine glass or you will be missing half the experience of drinking TX. This wine has muster gained from a mélange of red and black fruit characteristics, supported by dusty earth, minerals, aromatic spices including a nip black pepper on both the nose and palate.

TX Locations is a worthy wine that’s worthy of carrying the TX brand. It’s a wine as big as the state that is represents.

 Posted by at 8:26 pm
Jun 102015

Antelope Horn Milkweed – A Native to Texas

Texas: A Land of Native Milkweed & What You Can Do To Save It

Most of us know about milkweed from either what we have read about it as the favorite food of the Monarch butterfly caterpillars, or by what we have seen for sale (Tropical Milkweed) in our local Wal-Mart, Home Depot and many garden stores and nurseries. But, for those that have any acreage at all (even a couple acres) or for our Texas gardeners and naturalist, the topic goes much deeper.

The migration of the Monarch butterflies could soon become a thing of the past due to this butterfly’s declining population.  The cause is a combination of factors that includes illegal logging, wildfires, droughts, and a drastic loss of their crucial native milkweed habitat in the United States. In fact, in 2010, the monarch butterfly was added to the World Wildlife Fund’s Ten Most Threatened Species List. The cited reason: loss of habitat necessary for survival of the monarch migration.

The habitat problem boils down to one thing: native milkweed species that have resided in fields and pastures in our country for centuries have succumbed to the major forces of but land development and unknowing mowing of public and private grassland.

I’ve owned my hill country property in Alamo Springs Ranch for over 10 years. During this time, I’ve spent countless hours “gleefully” mowing the grass in the proximity of our cottage. However, with the grass, I also mowed down many weird-looking green plants with pointy leaves and white flowers.  It wasn’t until this year that I realized these plants were a specie of native Texas milkweed called Antelope Horn milkweed (See photos).

During the most recent episode of rain with the grasses on our property over a foot tall, I started an effort to flag many of the Antelope Horn milkweed so that they could be avoided (as best a possible) during mowing.

While I was placing the flags in the area of these milkweed plants, I took a close look at the blossoms. They are five-pointed flowers with light-green to white petals tightly packed into clusters of twenty or more flowers.  Each flower has five round, white coronas that stand above the petals on small horn-like stems.


Native Milkweed hosts to many of our endangered pollinators (look closely)

Looking closer (see above photo), I saw something that really surprised me: the number and diversity of insects species that these milkweed flowers attract and sustain.  Not only were there several species of butterfly on the milkweed flowers, but there were honey bees, small beetles and black ants (not fire ants!). After doing some research, I found out that these native milkweed are a haven for many of our native pollinators that are in distress right now, too.

I encourage you to take a closer look at the grassland on your property before your next mowing.  Look for, identify and flag as many as you can to save them from the mower.  Photos of several of the other types of native milkweed in the Texas hill country are available online on the Native Plant Society of Texas website at: If you find any of these, please flag them too and don’t mow them down.

The horticultural community in Texas encourages you to sustain the native milkweed population rather than planting the Wall-Mart and Home Depot variety of tropical milkweed (with its yellow, orange and red flowers). The tropical milkweed will actually keep the Monarchs from continuing their fall migration to Mexico unless you cut it down as fall approaches. If tropical milkweed is available locally, the Monarchs will tend to stay here where they succumb to the cold, freezing weather and a local and toxic fungus. The native milkweeds are better since they naturally die-back in the fall. This encourages the Monarchs to continue on their journey to Mexico. But, don’t worry, they will come back in the spring on their reverse migration.


You can also help promote native milkweed by gathering seeds from some of the seedpods (see photo above). Once you gather the seeds, plant them to start a garden of native milkweed or distribute in an unmowed area on your property to sustain the Monarchs (see below) and many other Texas pollinators. Further details on propagation of native milkweed via seeds is available at


Monarch Caterpillars on Native Milkweed Plant

 Posted by at 9:24 am
Jun 092015

Bobby and Jennifer Cox at Pheasant Ridge – Ultra Magazine March 1984

Veteran Texas Winemaker Owns Pheasant Ridge Winery Once Again

The Cox’s regain lost winery that they saw from their kitchen window every morning for over 20 years 

by Andrew Chalk, Guest Blogger & VT Commentary by Russ Kane

Bobby Cox, the winemaker who played a major part in putting Texas wine on the national map, is back as owner (with his wife Jennifer) of Pheasant Ridge Winery. Cox and the Bingham Family, agreed to split the assets [from the recent winery acquisition]. The Binghams get the existing inventory and all of the wine making equipment at the winery, and Cox gets ownership of the brand, the winery building near Lubbock and thirty acres of vineyards (about half of which are producing). Cox said that he is optimistic about the future of Texas wine, considering the industry to be at a tipping point at which high quality is going to become commonplace. He says that he looks forward to being part of that quality revolution and will be using 100% Texas grapes.


Bobby Cox in vineyard in 2008

The Bingham Family, one of the largest growers of grapes in the High Plains, plans to move forward with their Bingham Family Vineyards in Meadow Texas and has already released wines and opened a tasting room in Grapevine. Tastings and tours start at the Meadow winery facility later this summer after construction work is finished but Betty Bingham stressed that they expect the Grapevine tasting room to be the main consumer tasting facility.

For Texas wine lovers, this development means that two producers committed to making quality wine from 100% Texas grapes can operate at full pace.

Pheasant Ridge holds a unique place in Texas wine history. Founded by Cox in the early 1980s, it committed to grow vinifera grapes in Texas right from the start. At a time when many of the few dozen wineries then in the state were producing an embarrassing mish-mash of chemistry set experiments gone wrong, Cox’s winemaking and viticulture produced medals, not just in-state but at the country’s most prestigious wine competitions. The Pheasant Ridge 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon won a medal and their Sauvignon Blanc won an honorable mention at the San Francisco Wine Competition. A silver medal was awarded to the 1984 Sauvignon Blanc at the San Francisco Wine Competition in 1985. In 1986 the 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition.

This also recently appeared in Wines & Vines.


VT Commentary…I agree wholeheartedly with Andy on this one. It was a win-win way to handle the Pheasant Ridge acquisition and one that allows the modern Texas wine industry to get back in touch with its legacy that Bobby helped create. The re-establishment of the Pheasant Ridge Winery with Bobby Cox will be like having a Texas wine “Hubble Telescope” giving us “eyes to see” back in time in the industry near its modern creation. I explored this legacy personally on a trips to the Texas high plains in 2008 & 2009. I related one occasion in my recent book (The WineSlinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine available on Excerpt below:

“Bobby Cox is a larger-than-life character both in stature and reputation among grape growers and winemakers. He’s something like a Texas version of Paul Bunyan, and Neal Newsom’s large blue grape harvester parked beside him appeared as the mechanical equivalent of Bunyan’s large blue ox, Babe. While Bunyan was a legendary lumberman in the American northland, Bobby’s a bona fide virtuoso of grape growing here in the Southwest.

Bobby’s hands showed the signs of wear and weather, and his furrowed face was etched with the look of lessons learned at the mercy of Mother Nature and hard economic times. At times it is difficult to separate the man from the legend. He’s shown an uncanny ability of identifying trends, helping growers select grape varieties that best fit the climate and soil in Texas, and at adapting vineyard techniques that optimize the quantity and quality of their harvests. That evening when Bobby arrived at a dinner gathering of High Plains growers, he produced his own personal offering of Texas wine history captured in a large, dusty liter and a half bottle of wine.

Pheasant Ridge Winery, with its estate vineyard in the Lubbock area, was once Bobby’s baby. The vineyard he planted in the 1970s is one of the oldest in Texas, with sixty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Semillon. He was a believer in the European vinifera grapes from the start, at a time when many people felt that they couldn’t be grown here. However, Bobby’s blood, sweat, and tears weren’t enough. A few years of lean harvests led to the need to borrow money to keep the winery going, but when that ran out, the winery was taken over by the bank and sold in the early 1990s.

Bobby still views his lost winery every day from his kitchen window when he drinks his morning coffee before going out to tend the vineyards of others. Despite this misfortune, he decided to stay in the game as a vineyard consultant to help promote the art and science of Texas viticulture that he loves so much.”

Well, Bobby’s decision to stay in the game has paid off. It also gives proof to the saying “what goes around, comes around” In this case, it came around with a second chance at fulfilling the Cox’s dreams that were left largely unfulfilled over two decades ago. This will be no small task for a much older but well seasoned Bobby Cox. But, you know, if anyone can do it, my faith is in Bobby.

Jennifer and Bobby Cox in 2009 with a bottle of their original 1982 Pheasant Ridge Cabernet

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Jun 082015

Houston’s Two Festivals in One: Wine & Music

Inaugural Discover Wine Festival in Houston to Feature 19 Texas Wineries

The inaugural Discover Wine Festival will be held on Saturday, June 20 in downtown Houston from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The 2015 Discover Wine Festival will be a festival within a festival since we will be part of the Springboard South Music Festival. Springboard South had a very successful festival last year and continues to expand this year with their festival being three days, and expecting over 5,000 people per day to listen to over 150 bands of different genres on six stages.

The Discover Wine Festival will be located in an air conditioned tent (more like a building) and live music will be playing on one side of the tent while 19 excellent Texas wineries will be pouring wine on the other side of the tent. The tent will be located adjacent to Warehouse Live which is near George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. All Discover Wine Festival attendees will have access to all the Springboard South music stages so wine festival goers can listen to different music genres and return for more wine in the festival tent.

We look forward to introducing quality Texas wine to the Houston area. Wineries are coming to Houston all the way from Grapevine, the Hill Country, Fredericksburg, East Texas, and including the local area. Wineries attending the festival will be: Clear Creek Vineyard, Cork This! Winery, Crump Valley Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate, Haak Vineyards & Winery, Hye Meadow Winery, Kiepersol Estates Winery, Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, Majek Vineyard & Winery, Perrine Winery, Pleasant Hill Winery, Red 55 Winery, Saddlehorn Winery, San Duccero Vineyards, Sloan & Williams Winery, Solaro Urban Winery Houston, Texas Legato, and Valley Mills Vineyards.

Among the top sponsors are Kroger, Go Texan, Yelp, and Texas Hill Country Wineries. The wine festival will be open to the general public. Discover Wine Festival is brought to you by the Texas wine website Texas Wine Lover and the Kemah winery Clear Creek Vineyards.

For more information, please see the website , Facebook page, or follow on Twitter You can also email or call (832) 338-4111.

— — — — —

Saturday June 20th • 813 Saint Emanuel Street • Downtown Houston • 11 am – 8pm


 Posted by at 10:04 am
Jun 062015

2014 Pilot Knob Vineyard, Chardonnay, Robert Clay Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, “Cloud Nine”

A “Chardonnay-Year” for the Texas Hill Country & Pilot Knob and Robert Clay Vineyards

It was an early August day 2014, when I visited Dan McLaughlin’s Robert Clay Vineyard in Mason. I was directed by Dan to try a helping of the still remaining Chardonnay grapes in the vineyard. See . It was after this “tasting” and a similar tasting of Alfonse Dotson’s Certenberg Vineyard Chardonnay grapes (also in Mason County) that I proclaimed 2014 a “Chardonnay-Year” for the Texas Hill Country [I can’t make claims for anywhere else in the state].

I recently had an opportunity to again come face-to-face with the same Chardonnay from Robert Clay Vineyard. But, this time it was in the form of a finished wine: 2014 Pilot Knob Vineyard, Chardonnay, Robert Clay Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, “Cloud Nine”.

I can definitely say that this wine reflects the summer of 2014 that I experienced in Mason County. The summer was retrained, parsed with occasional soothing showers and refreshing afternoon breezes and moderate day and night time temperatures. This is just what Chardonnay grapes need to show well in a Texas wine. It’s not an every year thing, but when the magic works…wow!


Robert Clay Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 at Harvest

In this recent meet-up, the wine showed something special. It wasn’t the pale straw color of many French Chardonnays and didn’t have the intense golden hues of California’s sturdy-stylistically oak-aged Chards either. The Pilot Knob Chardonnay starts with light golden straw and something that I’ve seen a few times before in Texas white wines: a straw-gold color tinged with perhaps just the slightest glow of a southwestern sunset. My take is that it is perhaps a dose of sun ripened grape skin color (see above).

On the nose, the wine showed restraint like the summer that produced it. It held a pleasant air of sweet vanilla bean and toasted almonds from oak followed closely with apple and citrus notes. These progressed further on the palate to yellow delicious apples, butterscotch and lemon curd yielding a well-rounded [soft-yet-crisp] finish. All these characteristics come packaged with the restrained polish and integration of a fine wine. You could argue about “if it’s classic Chard, or not”. But, I known one thing, it’s a wine that is destine to please. I just hope that we have more Chardonnay vintages like this one in Texas to proclaim so that we can continue this discussion over more wine.

I linked up on a call to grower Dan McLaughlin after my tasting and he indicated he was really pleased how his grapes showed in the final analysis. He also had praise for the winemaking effort of Craig Pinkley at Pilot Knob and the support of Tim Drake winemaker at Flat Creek Winery.

Dan said, “2014 was an exception harvest for our Chardonnay at Robert Clay Vineyard. The numbers were solidly good: 2.3 tons per acre, harvested at 21.8 Brix and pH 3.51. I don’t think they could have been any better.”

Later, I asked Craig for more background on this wine and he referred to Dan’s fruit as “immaculate” and “super clean”, then said, “Dan is a meticulous grower. Because of this, we made the decision to go with the vineyard’s feral yeast to ferment, and no additional yeast was added.  I know that that can be dangerous because you really don’t know what’s going to happen, but it all turned out great. Both Dan and Craig called it “Pretty darn cool”.

Craig also said, “The fermentation, secondary [malo-lactic] fermentation and aging were all done in Hungarian oak barrels: 9 months aging in all with 30% new oak. With a committed grower like Dan and with the guiding hand of Tim Drake, who has extensive experience with the Chardonnay grape, it all came together in a fine way. We were pleased to create a wine with lovely textures, aromas, and drinkability.  A little hurrah for Texas Chardonnay.”

I’ve talked to many winemakers in Texas that are now “playing with” aging in Hungarian oak (closely akin to French Oak) because they particularly like the toasty qualities and creamy softness it imparts to the wine. This wine definitely has those attributes.

Later, I asked Dan where did the “Cloud Nine” on the wine label come from. After a moment of pause, Dan said, “ My wife Jeanie was adopted. While Jeanie and her birth father were very close, he hadn’t seen her in 8 years. In 2014, he came to visit us during harvest and he got a chance to visit with his family and grandkids. Jeanie’s father also helped with harvest. He spent all night driving the Kubota around the vineyard with my son picking up fruit as it was harvested and telling stories to everyone that would listen.”

After pausing again, he said, “On his way back home on his Harley after the visit, he had a serious accident and passed away. Jeanie later said that during that visit her father was ‘really on Cloud Nine’. We thought that it would be a fitting and special dedication to him by adding “Cloud Nine” on the wine’s label. It’s a celebration of his life.”


Photo from Robert Clay Vineyard Facebook page.

The 2014 Pilot Knob Vineyard, Chardonnay, Robert Clay Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, “Cloud Nine” is a special wine in the glass. It was a special vintage and special harvest, too. It is also special for the memories that it holds every time it’s savored.

For more information on the wine, winery and vineyard, see:

Pilot Knob Vineyard & Winery and ordering information –

Robert Clay Vineyard

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 Posted by at 11:24 am